When we first arrived in the United States
from Franco's Spain, everything we encountered
or bought had "free" written on it.
The boxes of cereal spoke of a free mystery
surprise, the junk mail came bundled,
and somehow that word sang to us.
My father and I got wise—the word
became cheap, untrustworthy, hollow.
Having been fooled before, we knew what "free"
really meant. We learned lessons the hard way;
nothing free ever came so easily, but my mother—
who had heard stories of people throwing
out television sets, sofas, washing machines,
perfectly good chairs—believed in this land
of plenty where people discarded simply
because things were old or someone
had grown tired of them. She believed
in all that was cast to the curb. A cousin
who cruised the neighborhood streets
for these free goods told her of his finds
over the telephone. On the weekends,
she sent my father and me out to hunt,
to find these throwaways, but we always
came back empty-handed. We never
really looked. We stopped for donuts
or to watch a baseball game at the park.
Now, years later, my father dead, my mother
gets the mail, the catalogs, and she sends
it all up to me in Tallahassee, and she's circled
the word "free" and asks me what the deal is.
Most Sundays I try to convince her once
and for all that there are no deals, that nothing
is free, then there's silence over the line,
and I can hear her thinking otherwise.
She is a woman who wants to cling to something
as simple as a two-for-one deal, the extra, the much
more, lo gratis: these simple things she knows
have kept us going all these exiled years.
[Thanks Garrison Keillor!]